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Luke 22:44 (NIV)
And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Was this a literal thing--did he actually sweat drops of blood. Is that even possible?

Or was his sweat so thick that it was "like drops of blood"?

What's going on in this passage?

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5 Answers

The combination of ἐγένετο and ὡσεί ("was like" or "became like" drops of blood) are used in Mark 9:26 and a variant reading of Matt. 28:4, both of which pretty clearly denote a simile ("became like dead men" and "became like a corpse," respectively). In the manuscripts of the Gospels ὡσεί and ὡς are often interchanged, suggesting that those who transcribed them did not see any high degree of semantic difference...nor should we.

Regardless of whether Luke was a physician, or whether sweating blood is possible (and I'm not saying it isn't), it seems to me that the simplest reading of the Greek is that we should understand this as a metaphor painting the picture that Jesus' was dripping perspiration due to his anguish. Just because Jesus did not literally sweat blood does not lessen the anguish that he suffered.

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The text says, "His sweat was LIKE drops of blood", which strongly suggest his sweat was not blood, but he was sweating so profusely that it was dripping off of him; resembling someone who had been severely wounded and was dripping blood.

If someone fell into a pond and sunk to the bottom of that pond and I told you, "he sunk to the bottom like a rock", does that mean when he sunk to the bottom... he became a rock?

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This is a good point you make, although your second paragraph is a bit condescending. Still, if you look back at the original Greek, the text doesn't illustrate that this is a simile quite as obviously. Still, +1 for pointing out the tiny little word ὡσεί. –  Richard Sep 25 '13 at 14:07
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The NET Bible includes this textual criticism note:

Several important Greek mss (Ì75 א1 A B N T W 579 1071*) along with diverse and widespread versional witnesses lack 22:43-44. In addition, the verses are placed after Matt 26:39 by Ë13. Floating texts typically suggest both spuriousness and early scribal impulses to regard the verses as historically authentic. These verses are included in א*,2 D L Θ Ψ 0171 Ë1 Ï lat Ju Ir Hipp Eus. However, a number of mss mark the text with an asterisk or obelisk, indicating the scribe’s assessment of the verses as inauthentic. At the same time, these verses generally fit Luke’s style. Arguments can be given on both sides about whether scribes would tend to include or omit such comments about Jesus’ humanity and an angel’s help. But even if the verses are not literarily authentic, they are probably historically authentic. This is due to the fact that this text was well known in several different locales from a very early period. Since there are no synoptic parallels to this account and since there is no obvious reason for adding these words here, it is very likely that such verses recount a part of the actual suffering of our Lord. Nevertheless, because of the serious doubts as to these verses’ authenticity, they have been put in brackets. For an important discussion of this problem, see B. D. Ehrman and M. A. Plunkett, “The Angel and the Agony: The Textual Problem of Luke 22:43-44,” CBQ 45 (1983): 401-16.

In plain English, Luke's original manuscript probably didn't include these verses. Early Christian scribes may have had the verses in some form (perhaps a fragment of a larger document or perhaps an annotation to a copy of the text) and fit them in were they thought they belonged.

The passage being a later addition breeches the question of whether Jesus sweated blood in historical fact. In my opinion, this is a pious, but misguided, addition and not historically authentic. I base this opinion largely on the work of Bart D. Ehrman and his popularization, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. The first four chapters are particularly useful.

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Looking at his life timeline, it looks like that book came out of Bart Ehrman's agnosticism rather than his PhD and MDiv studies. It makes me question the source. Still, +1 for the fuller mention of the question of authenticity of this passage. (even though it doesn't answer the question) ;) –  Richard Oct 18 '11 at 17:39
    
@Richard: Even so, I agree with Ehrman's argument here. But not so much that I am willing to answer "yes" or "no" it seems. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Oct 18 '11 at 18:05
    
@Richard: If it matters, the article cited by the NET Bible is pre-agnosticism and probably forms the basis for the section in the book. I haven't read it, however. –  Jon Ericson Oct 18 '11 at 18:06
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It sounds like from this blog post, that the first four chapters (as you mention) are a solid, basic explanation of textual criticism. It's the last three chapters are controversial. –  Richard Oct 18 '11 at 18:20
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Bart Ehrman is a great source despite his religious views. This is hermeneutics.SE, not Christianity.SE. Therefore, we can't let our religious preferences nor religious prejudices stop us from seeking that which is true. His abilities not his religion should be the only thing that matters when counting him as a source. –  The Freemason Sep 25 '13 at 16:29
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One thing to remember here is that Luke was a physician. He knew (should have known?) his symptoms. This does not preclude the metaphoric interpretation, but it does give the literal interpretation a lot more credence in this case. Even if it was not something he had seen before, it makes it far less likely that he would describe it this way in error.

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That is true, but it also seems that those verses weren't in the original manuscripts. So, the authorship may be in question. (Just another thought. You do make an excellent point, though.) –  Richard Oct 5 '11 at 14:04
    
Ok, good point. But was the symptoms known at the time? That is the question. –  Sonic The Hedgehog Oct 6 '11 at 2:56
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There's a condition known as Hematidrosis, which has reportedly occurred in people other than Jesus.

It could be metaphorical, but the "easy reading" of that passage suggests it's not, and I don't know that there's any outside sources to suggest that we shouldn't take it to mean he literally sweat blood.

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This condition is also apparently related to the phenomenon known as stigmata: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18360116 –  Bruce Alderman Oct 5 '11 at 15:22
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